Book Review 30: Compelling Hollywood mystery

"It sounds like a good book…"
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I recently enjoyed Jonathan Kellerman's "Gone." I don't usually read mystery novels. I don't have anything against the genre; it just never really grabbed me.

I read the book because a colleague gave it to me. He bought it in the airport to read on a flight. After he got a few pages into it, though, he realized he had just read it six months before. I hate when that happens.

"Gone" is the 20th book in the Alex Delaware series of detective novels. That's an astounding track record. The series follows the continuing adventures of Dr. Alex Delaware, a psychologist who consults on cases with the LAPD and often works with Lieutenant Milo Sturgis.

He and Sturgis have a strong professional and personal relationship that allows them to draw on one another's skills to solve crime.

"Listen to him, but don't tell me what I want to hear."

"Do I ever?"

"No," he said. "That's why you're my pal."

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In "Gone," Delaware and Sturgis investigate the murder of a young actress and the disappearance of her acting partner. The plot, according to the back of the book, goes like this:

Nevertheless, the case is closed–only to be violently reopened when Michaela is savagely murdered. When the police look for Dylan, they find that he’s gone. Is he the killer or a victim himself? Casting their dragnet into the murkiest corners of L.A., Delaware and Sturgis unearth more questions than answers–including a host of eerily identical killings. What really happened to the couple who cried wolf? And what bizarre and brutal epidemic is infecting the city with terror, madness, and sudden, twisted death?

While the book was thoroughly entertaining, and the plot went to some dark places, it didn't shock me with it's brutality. I guess I've become inured to that sort of thing in fiction after watching hours of Criminal Minds, CSI, Law and Order, and other such programs.

The novel is a fast read. The 456 pages flew by, and I never wanted to put it down. There are three areas where Kellerman's strength really showed: the characters, the plot, and the pacing.

The characters, all seen though Dr. Delaware's eyes are vivid. Kellerman sharply defines them. They may appear as traditional Hollywood archetypes at first glance, but Kellerman gradually brings out the deeper characteristics as the story goes on, and they become vivid individuals who do unexpected things.

As they do these things, Kellerman dribbles out plot elements. It's a measured pace. As Delaware and Sturgis discover each new piece of evidence, the plot moves along. At they same time, they take the opportunity to discuss it and explore the meaning of it. I felt like I was sitting at the table with them, trying to understand what each new piece of data meant. Several times I wanted to scream at them, "Don't you see? This is what it's all about. How can you ignore this possible scenario?!"

Each time, I was wrong.

The twists and turns in the novel kept surprising me. I had no idea what would happen on the next page, but whatever did happen, in fact, made sense.

And there aren't lengthy expository sections where Kellerman has to explain everything. He releases the plot twists at just the right time so I was able to absorb them.

And that is key to the pacing of the novel. It has very few slow spots. The faster paced scenes are also slow enough that I did not get lost in all the activity.

There are somethings I could have done without, but that's because I am just a visitor to the Alex Delaware series, which is now more than 20 years old.

There is a subplot where Delaware consults on another psychologist's malpractice suit. And there are several interludes between Delaware and his exgirlfriends that really did nothing for the plot. They interrupted the flow of the novel and seemed like they were there just to show that Delaware has a life outside his involvement with the LAPD. I was here for a mystery story and not the story of Delaware's life.

I can't criticize Kellerman for that, though. While the novel certainly stands on its own, its not written for the casual interloper who jumps into the series at the twentieth book. It's written for those who have traveled the beleaguered roads of southern California with Alex Delaware for the better part of two decades. For someone reading the series, these interludes extend the thread of Delarware's life through all the novels, making "Gone" simply one chapter in the rich history of Delaware's life.

They are there for someone other than me. But that's okay. They're not major plot elements. If someone wants to know more of those goings on, they should read more Delaware novels.

They don’t harm the book. They probably enhance the overall value of the series. For me, reading just this one novel however, they are superfluous.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I don't think I'll seek out the rest of the Delaware novels. I never wanted to put the book down -- it's just not my thing. If another one falls in my lap, I will greedily devour it. But I just don't feel compelled to follow more of Delaware's career.

The bottom line is the book is fun to read, with a clear plot, and some interesting characters. It kept me reading throughout the book, and handed me surprises in each chapter.

He grinned. "One day in and I've got trial fantasies. Okay. Let's see what we can do within the boundaries of The Law."

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Patricia Rockwell said...

I have read a number of the Alex Delaware novels and find them to be intriguing and entertaining. This sounds like another good one.


I have read every single one of Jonathan Kellerman's series of Alex Delaware and enjoy each one. This is a great series!

Cromely said...

@patricia rockwell: It certainly was entertaining.

@health nut wannabee mom: That' impressive. Maintaining consistency over that long a series can't be easy.